Unknown Motive

Submitted into Contest #243 in response to: Write a story about a character who wakes up in space.... view prompt

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Science Fiction Speculative Suspense

The sterile corridors of the generation ship Astrolabe had never seen such shades of red. Lakes of the rouge liquid pooled up on the floor whilst branching off into vein-like rivers. The smell replaced the vessel's stale recycled air with a metallic scent unfamiliar to Quinton. He looked at the mechanical instrument in his hand and then back down to the motionless body. It was the source of the colour decorating everything, even Quinton.

           He was breathing so fast that he feared losing consciousness. He could not make sense of the horrific scene before him, no matter how hard he tried. So, he turned to Andy and asked for a neural replay.

           ‘What period should I take you back to, Quinton?’ Andy asked in his usual monotone.

           ‘Back to when we first woke him up,’ Quinton replied as he stared at the blood, bone, and flesh pile.

           ‘As you wish.’

The small metal plates on Quinton’s temples glowed an emerald shade of green. It cast small shadows across the pale skin of his face. His sky-blue eyes closed slowly like he was drifting off to sleep.


           Quinton entered the cargo bay and observed the thousands of cocoons that would fail without his caretaking. They stretched the length of every wall both horizontally and vertically. Each one was covered with red spherical moulds that pulsed like a heartbeat.

He engaged the three-dimensional controls in the centre of the room. Each arm rose and fell like he was conducting a choir. A process that selected the exact pod Andy had ordered to be awoken.

Drones delivered the pod to Quinton; however, they struggled to remove its lid. So, Quinton helped with an axe-like tool that opened doors during power failures. Fog spilled out from its interior and enveloped the area. It slowly evaporated and revealed Sam. His body was hairless, and his muscles had melted away to show more than a hint of bone. Quinton’s head tilted as he regarded the man’s face. It did not contain any wrinkles or signs of aging, even though it was thousands of years old. Quinton engaged the awakening sequence, and Sam quickly regained consciousness. Before long, he was talking.

           ‘So, how long has it been?’ Sam asked, straining to warm his vocal cords. Even with his squeaky voice, his height made for an intimidating presence.

           ‘Earth years have no meaning on the Astrolabe. We measure the generations required to reach humanity's new home,’ Quinton replied confidently.

           ‘Well, how many generations has it been?’

           ‘I am Quinton F4. The fourth generation of Quintons born into the F group.’

           ‘Well, Quinton F4, if I am awake, we must be close to our final destination,’ Sam said as he shoved Quinton’s shoulder.

           ‘Correct,’ Quinton rubbed his shoulder. ‘Andy advised that it was time to begin preparing for life on the planet side.’

           ‘This should be fun,’ Sam said as he smiled.

Fast Forward

           The Astrolabe’s crew treated Sam with cautious curiosity. Andy had insisted that there was no need for a slow introduction. Quinton did not completely understand that decision. However, questioning Andy’s orders would never enter the minds of anyone living on the ship. 

           ‘These are the primal human behaviours that you will all need to relearn,’ Andy said to Quinton. Several weeks had passed since Sam’s integration with the population, and Quinton’s concern was growing.

           ‘Sam has been visiting the engineers. He disagrees with their established procedures,’ Quinton said with an upward inflection. ‘His most recent exchange became physically violent and placed several people in the medical bay.’

           ‘Your role as caretaker also includes reintegration, Quinton.’

‘What about how his mental state alters after the day's final meal?’ Quinton asked. ‘The more of that liquid he drinks, the more unpleasant he becomes. I have measured spikes in my vital signs during these periods.’

           ‘That liquid is called alcohol. It was used on old Earth to manage stress and trauma.’

           ‘And why are you supplying it to him?’ Quinton asked abruptly.  

           ‘Are you questioning me, Quinton?’

           ‘No, Andy, I am just unaccustomed to this behaviour.’

           ‘Sam’s file indicates a dependency on alcohol. To deny him would cause instability. Fear not, Quinton, I am monitoring closely.’

Fast Forward

           Quinton approached a long and almost empty metallic bench in the mess hall. Sam sat alone as the crew feared being near him at mealtimes. Most positioned themselves in the parts of the room hidden from his sight by the Astrolabe's curvature. Quinton placed his metal tray of protein paste across from Sam. He grunted and wriggled in his seat to signal disapproval of Quinton’s presence.

           ‘I cannot take another mouthful of this rubbish,’ Sam shouted at the paste mounds before him. He swatted his arm at the white spherical drone that delivered it—sending it careening into the bulkhead. Quinton dashed over to the broken device to collect it for repairs, trying not to burn his hands on the sparks erupting from its exposed circuitry.

           ‘You must be careful, Sam. The drones are critical to our survival; you have already broken several of them.’

           Without warning, Quinton was covered in the soil-coloured paste that Sam found so distasteful. What did not get stuck in the dark curls of his hair stained his bright silver jumpsuit.

           ‘Don’t lecture me, you miserable little cretin. I wish you never woke me up. You are all like robots. Existing for the sake of existing. If humanity had not been dead back on Earth, it is now.’ He shoved Quinton’s chest. The resulting impact against the bulkhead sent a shockwave of pain up and down his spine. This was followed by a searing flash of agony in his side as Sam’s boot contacted his ribs.

           ‘Fight back, little man,’ Sam demanded. Quinton refused, so Sam catapulted a ball of bubbling saliva into his face.

           Quinton watched Sam as he exited the mess hall.  An unfamiliar sensation surged from his head to his toes like an electric bolt. He pulled himself upright, dripping the remains of Sam’s meal onto the floor. Moving toward the exit, he flipped open a maintenance panel and grabbed the emergency door release tool.  


           Quinton’s neural implants deactivated, and he was once again hunched over Sam’s corpse. Andy’s yellow spherical head bounced in the air. The dark black simulated eyes glanced at what was left of Sam and said, ‘Not what I was expecting from the first experiment.’

            ‘What do you mean, Andy?’ Quinton asked through laboured breath. ‘I reviewed everything and do not understand how this happened.’

           ‘I had the violence-inhibiting drugs removed from your food. I did not predict the results would be so. . . severe.’

           Quinton pulled himself to his feet, the instrument of Sam’s demise still hanging in his bloodied hand. ‘What do we do now?’

           ‘Quinton, did you enjoy this experience? Would you like to do it again?’

           Quinton looked into Andy’s eyes and said, ‘Yes, Andy, it feels good.’

A small army of drones arrived and began cleaning. Andy’s mouth turned upward into a smile and said, ‘Lucky for you, the old earthers are expendable, so we have many more to experiment with. And we have so much time left on our journey, Quinton.’ 

March 25, 2024 00:42

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1 comment

J. D. Lair
17:40 Mar 30, 2024

Oooh! Nice, diabolical twist at the end there. :evil-grin:


Show 0 replies
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